There was a small white envelope waiting for me when I got home. It was a subpoena, and it said be at the Federal Court Building at 8 a.m. and don't be late or else bad things will happen. So, I went.
Trying to catch up on some things, I worked until four in the morning and got up late…what did the paper say?….eight and don't be late? It was about nine when I got there.
The federal court building is a magnificent granite edifice. The courtroom was all mahogany, quiet and stately.
I sat there waiting while the preliminaries were done. The case was going to go a couple of days. Lawyer types dressed in pristine white shirts and black suits waved me over.
“We will probably need you,” they said, “but since you are a witness you will have to wait outside the courtroom. Don't wander off, don't go anywhere.” I went outside and stood in the hallway. White marble walls, cold and quiet.
A couple of people from the tribe were there, Raymond and Everett. The case involved them, too. We stood there, all dressed to kill with white starched shirts, a blue tie and a suit for me, one I like that fits comfortably. We talked about fishing, and a little about the snow of late.
The hallway began to fill with people of different shapes and colors, from nations like Iran, China, Sweden, Thailand, Mexico and a lot more. I saw a sign on a door. “Citizenship Ceremony at 1 p.m., assemble here.”
People kept coming with children, grandmas. A Hasidic Jew with a feathered hat, an Indian woman in a sari, Iranian women wrapped head to toe. They filled the room and spilled out into the hallway.
The lawyers in our case took a break. Chris, one of the Assistant U.S. Attorneys, came over and stood with us.
I had heard he was Native so I asked where he came from? He told me he was Seneca-Cayuga. There we were, four Natives standing there, quietly talking and looking at all those people.
It was a naturalization ceremony; they were to be sworn in as American citizens.
We all looked at each other, and without saying a word walked over to the door and joined the masses standing there…these people from all over the world….wanting to be American.
I am not sure who said it, but one of us did. "Maybe we should join them and get sworn in." We all laughed. The people there looked at us, those four making noise…wondering what country we were from.
I found a place in the corner and watched them as they raised their hands and swore their allegiance to America.
A lot of things came to my mind. The history of misery, genocide of my people, the sicknesses and loss of land to people like these who seek a dream at the expense of others. But then, on the other hand, we make our own future, the past is done, and we have to move on. I am proud to be Native, an American, a child of my father and mother.
I thought how it was to sit on a ridge way up high long ago, to watch these immigrants move slowly onto our land, and see that they came and came with what seemed like, no end. I thought, with curiosity at first, then fear and then sorrow.
I never had to say anything like this, but at times I feel like a prisoner in my own land, or a soon to be exile from it. It is a great country, but where do I fit in all this?
A man from India asked me, “Where are you from?”
I told him I am born for Bitahni, the Folded Arms People, and that my father is Tsinalbiiltnii, the Mountain People, that I come from Dinetah, and some would say I am Navajo, a Native American. He smiled at me.
“Are you here with someone?”
“No, just taking a look around.”
He said, “You come from a great country” and walked away.
I stood there and thought, I guess I am an American and after listening to those folks talk about where they came from and the difficulties to get to this time and place…it made me think I am glad I am an American, and a Native; despite all that has happened. I wanted to extend my hand to welcome them but it was not my place.
I listened to a welcome speech by a woman from the Daughters of the American Revolution.
I could see the mountains outside and with it the images of my people long past who stood there and watched others come onto their land.
I would have said welcome not because we are any different but because we share the same struggles. Though we are here, my people struggle still with liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Come look at my reservation, and see how we live and you will see that we are not all free, not yet anyway…but I said nothing.
I left to find a burger and a Coke.